Summary: Already a smash hit on consoles, the PC version of Batman: Arkham Asylum sports better graphics and support for NVIDIA technologies PhysX and 3D Vision. But is a pretty face all this game has going for it? See how Rocksteady's latest title fares on the PC inside!
Knowing all too well what the clown is capable of, Batman insists on providing an escort deep into the facility, keeping the Joker at arm’s length the whole time. As expected, he escapes custody with the aid of Harley Quinn and assumes control of the building. Everything quickly goes to hell in a hand basket as inmates run wild, while the task of pursuing Joker and restoring order is left to the Dark Knight. It soon becomes apparent that the Joker intended to be caught all along, but what exactly is he planning?
Aside from last year’s Lego Batman, the PC hasn’t seen a game featuring the Caped Crusader since 2001, and that was a shoddy console port at best. It has always been rare to see one that isn’t based on whatever Hollywood film or animated series was out at the time, and we all know how tie-in games usually turn out... Luckily, that is not the case with Arkham Asylum; an original, well-written story was penned for Rocksteady Studio’s second mainstream release, based on the Batman universe as a whole.
As is standard with PC versions of games, you get it for $10 less than consoles, along with higher resolution graphics and, if you have an NVIDIA 8-series GPU or better, fancy schmancy PhysX effects! How does this new Batman game stack up? Read on!
After reaching a certain combo multiplier, you are able to perform special throwing or takedown moves. You gain experience for each punk you knock out, allowing you to access one of various upgrades to techniques and equipment when you “level up.”
It wouldn’t be Batman without the gadgets, and this game has quite a few, including several varieties of Batarang, a remote-detonated explosive gel, and a very cool frequency emitter used to overload security panels. Most of them have upgrades available, such as a proximity fuse for the gel and a range boost for the emitter. You can also upgrade your armor up to 4 times, effectively increasing your health meter to about twice the size it starts out as. Every item has a utility, whether for getting you places you previously couldn’t reach, or giving you new ways to take out your opponents.
Stealth is a major component of gameplay – sometimes it is required and other times it is very difficult to proceed without it. You sneak behind cover and peer around corners, find flanking routes through vents, or use your grappling gun to stay above the enemy’s line of sight. There are often several environmental features that will aid you in dispatching thugs discreetly, the most obvious of which are arrays of grates and gargoyles. The former can be used to pop up out of the floor right behind your quarry to perform a silent takedown, while the latter serves as a high-altitude vantage point from which a number of strategic advantages are gained. For instance, you can hang upside down and grab someone below, or perform a gliding kick to knock them off their feet. For defeating several opponents armed with guns, you must keep the element of surprise on your side.
The Detective Mode of sight is used to aid you in navigating your way around the game world. It will highlight people and interactive objects, can detect enemies in the immediate vicinity, and is used for “forensic tracking.” In an attempt to put you in the sleuthy shoes of the world’s greatest detective, certain points of the story require you to scan for evidence such as fingerprints, DNA, and alcohol or tobacco residue. This is used to automatically track a person of interest to their current whereabouts. The most prevalent use of Detective Mode, however, is that it bestows an x-ray wall-hack with a very long range. It is definitely handy for sneaking around, but brings into question whether or not it may be somewhat overpowered.
Arkham Asylum is presented as a free-roam environment, with large outdoor areas opening up soon after the beginning tutorial sequence. However, the many mission areas such as the Penitentiary or Medical Center are blocked off in a way that requires you to progress through the story to acquire new gear so that you may access them. The aforementioned forensic tracking system is used to lead you to the next area via trails of evidence that act as breadcrumbs. It’s a neat little trick (albeit somewhat far-fetched) but is also redundant and unnecessary, considering you have waypoints and a map to find your way. Exploration is required to complete Riddler’s Challenges, which consist of collecting various hidden objects, destroying chattering teeth scattered about the island, and solving riddles to unlock character biographies and new levels for the bonus Challenge mode.
Boss fights suck for the most part, since most of them are identical dumb brutes. They throw something and you jump out of the way. They charge at you, you toss a Batarang, and then jump out of the way. It’s all very tedious and repetitive, even when a group of ordinary henchman are thrown in. You will no doubt lose count of how many times you have to defeat these overgrown monstrosities. The only fun part is when you are able to jump on their back and sort of direct their flailing movements to strike other enemies, but that’s rare. A few other bosses are different, but still usually end up with you tossing Batarangs in their face. Batman must have a magic belt of holding to keep that many with him…
The use of the Unreal Engine 3 is easily identifiable with its over-bright HDR, super-shiny surfaces, and abundance of yellow/orange-tinted lighting. Despite the core graphics similarities with a large number of other modern games, it succeeds in bringing gritty, realistic visuals to the game world. That isn’t to say that each of the villains you encounter aren’t modeled in a distinctly cartoonish style, because they are; this fusion of fantasy and reality is essential in bringing the comics to life, a la the flood of superhero feature films as of late.
More than anything, it’s the small details that really bring it to the next level. The overworld slowly descends into chaos as you complete missions, while a Joker mural is constructed bit by bit. Often you will come across evidence of skirmishes between Arkham security and the escaped inmates, like spent shotgun shells littered around dead personnel. Cobwebs infest ventilation shafts, tearing as you move through them, as does caution tape draped over doorways. Most impressively, scrapes and tears begin to accumulate all over Batman’s person as you progress through the game, visual proof of a crazy night spent in the Asylum.
The marketing blurb touts the game’s “dark and atmospheric” setting, and for good reason. Taking place on an initially stormy night, you’ll see dimly- yet beautifully-lit facilities, thick blankets of fog, and outdoor promenades bathed in moonlight. That is, when you choose to actually see it. Thanks to the multi-faceted Detective Mode, chances are you’ll only occasionally gaze upon the environment with your bare eyes. I often found myself having to make a conscious effort to switch it off to take compelling screenshots or just so I wouldn’t miss the visuals. Obviously it’s a visor in the mask that you activate, hence everything being washed out in a dark blue color, but the conflict of interests it creates is nonsensical. Do you want a gameplay advantage or prettier visuals?
Thanks to NVIDIA PhysX acceleration, a variety of advanced physics effects are present in Batman: AA. Sizeable quantities of volumetric smoke and fog will react to characters and objects according to more realistic fluid dynamics. Papers and leaves are scattered about the ground and can be kicked up into the air. Realistic cloth effects make your cape flutter behind you as you run and jump. Tiles or bricks can come loose from certain surfaces, piling up with other debris on the floor.
Psycho-toxin hallucinations are occasionally induced throughout your adventure, transporting you to what are known as the Scarecrow levels. Large amounts of rigid bodies crash down or float around in the most intensive PhysX scenes in the game. There is no doubt that these effects exclusive to NVIDIA hardware can be impressive at times, but I can’t say the same about people rushing out to buy the game or appropriate GPU because of them.
3D Vision support is a major selling point with the PC version of Batman: AA, as it was with Resident Evil 5. However, I have seen that there are conflicting reports as to whether or not it’s been officially dubbed “3D Vision Ready.” The splash screen of logos as the game starts says it is, as does NVIDIA marketing, but the driver software disagrees. There are a number of issues like certain effects not meshing well with stereoscopic vision, or the much larger disadvantage of pre-rendered cutscenes that are not in 3D. Hopefully this does not signify the beginning of superficially labeling certain games as “3D Vision Ready.”
Look for a more in-depth look at the 3D Vision and PhysX effects coming soon.
When I started playing, I could’ve sworn that the Joker was voiced by the same guy that did Roger Rabbit... However, in researching for this review, I discovered that it’s really none other than Mark Hamill! He had apparently made a name for himself in the voice-over biz by playing the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, reprising that role in nearly every related project since then. His associates Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin also return as the B-man and Harley Quinn, respectively. Needless to say, the trio does a hell of a job in bringing a level of authenticity to the game, as I’m sure long-time Batfans will appreciate.
FreeFlow combat system. Once you get the hang of it, you begin to crave large battles. Counter, counter, counter!
Detective Mode. It is very useful, maybe too much so, but also makes you miss out on pretty graphics. Forensic tracking is a bit hokey.
|<% print_image("26"); %>||<% print_image("27"); %>|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|